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    IMGP0203Looking for peace and quiet?  Perhaps the Swiss Alps are not for you.  If postcards came with sound effects, each green hillside snapshot would come complete with the joyous cacophony of cowbells…and goat bells and sheep bells.  Making their appearance in the 18th century, before the appearance of barbed wire and electric fences, these bells were first used to locate animals, especially in the dark or in a dense fog.IMGP0202

    Today, cowbells have mainly a traditional value.  A large bell with a thick leather strap may indicate a cow that has especially good milk production or the wealth of the animal’s owner.  Cowbells are also fashioned for special occasions, such as birthdays, and may be found hanging from beams at the front of chalets.  The best time to see the elaborately decorated bells in action is at a ¨poya¨, a springtime parade of cows climbing up to the summer pastures, accompanied by their owners who don traditional dress.  Likewise, a similar site can be seen in the autumn when the cows descend back to the valley for the winter.

    Swiss cowbells take on one of two shapes.  One is the ¨sonnaille¨, which is forged from two identical pieces of metal that are melded together, and the other is the ¨cloche¨, which is poured into a mould.  Both bells are engraved with the bell maker’s logo and the size of the bell.  The leather strap is fashioned by a saddle maker.  Straps worn on a daily basis tend to be a natural dark color with no decoration, while those used for special occasions or decoration can be quite ornate.